The road to the Olympics starts now | June 7, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - June 7, 2019

The road to the Olympics starts now

Team USA can clinch its spot with a victory this weekend

by Rick Eymer

The United States women's senior national water polo team can clinch a spot in the 2020 Toyko Olympics with a championship in the FINA World League Super Final being held in Budapest this weekend.

The world No. 1 Americans, who have seven players with Stanford connections on the roster, have won the past five Super Finals and own 12 titles overall, so the chances are good at repeating.

The U.S. finished group play with a 12-7 victory over Russia on Thursday and will open the quarterfinal round against China on Friday. The championship match is slated for Sunday.

"We are at the start of a long road," U.S. coach and Mountain View native Adam Krikorian said. "Our task is to win Super Final, bringing home the Olympic ticket. We also have other goals that are important. We're trying to improve."

Former Stanford standout Jordan Raney scored three times to lead the Americans against the Russians. former Stanford All-Americans Maggie Steffens and Kiley Neushul each scored a goal and current Cardinal Aria Fischer and Makenzie Fischer, who won the Peter J. Cutino Award as the top colleg player in the nation over the weekend, also scored.

The United States beat Canada 15-4 on Wednesday as Olympic gold medalist and Maggie Steffens scored three times. UCLA's Maddie Musselman scored four goals and USC's Amanda Longan recorded 11 saves for the Americans (8-0, 2-0).

"Canada played very aggressively against us, but we were really focused during the whole match and I'm proud of our teamwork," Longan said. "In the first and in the last quarters we were outstanding on both offense and defense."

The U.S. took a 6-0 lead after the first quarter and never looked back as Stanford's Aria Fischer added a pair. Former Stanford standout Kiley Neushul also scored.

"We were very good defensively, and especially Amanda Longan, our goalkeeper," said Krikorian, who recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of his hiring as a USA coach. "The key was we were getting exclusions in the first quarter. It was a difficult game physically despite the lead."

Team USA was 5-of-10 on power plays and converted its only penalty shot.

In Tuesday's 12-9 win over Hungary, the Americans rallied from an early deficit, taking a 6-4 halftime lead en route to the win.

Former Stanford All-Americans Melissa Seidemann, Steffens and Kiley Neushul each scored. Current Cardinal Makenzie Fischer and Aria Fischer also scored.

"We got off to a slow start but kept plugging away," Steffens told USA Water Polo. "A lot of people on the scoreboard, scoring goals, getting assists. It was a well-rounded game."

USA Women's Soccer

The United States opens defense of its Women's World Cup title Tuesday with a group match against Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune in Reims, France at noon.

The national team includes four players with ties to Sacred Heart Prep and Stanford: Abby Dahlkemper and Tierna Davidson attended SHP. Dahlkemper went on to play at UCLA and Davidson attended Stanford.

Kelley O'Hara and Christen Press each played at Stanford before turning pro and playing for the U.S. national team.

Davidson is the team's youngest player at age 20. She left school early to turn pro. Her 21st birthday is in September.

From the USA Soccer website: "A 5-foot-10 center back with a playmaker's mentality, Davidson glides across the field with a preternatural calm and understanding of the game. After winning the national championship with Stanford in 2017, Davidson left college one year early and became the first-round draft pick for the Chicago Red Stars. In 2018, she was playing the full 90 minutes for the U.S. National Team until she got sidelined by an ankle injury. Having returned to form, the versatile defender looks to be a stout solution along the U.S. backline at center or outside back."

Davidson has 20 caps, one goal and three assists.

Dahlkemper has appeared in 39 matches for the Americans, has yet to score and has three assists.

USA Soccer writes "a product of the U.S. Youth National Teams, Dahlkemper has represented the U.S. since 2010 when she first appeared for the U-17s and was a team captain. After 11 caps with the U-17s and a further eight for the U-23s from 2013-2016, Dahlkemper made her first senior appearance for the USA on Oct. 19, 2016 as a substitute against Switzerland. Dahlkemper was voted the NWSL's Defender of the Year in 2017."

O'Hara, a veteran of two World Cups, is one of Stanford's all-time scoring leaders and yet has played a vital role with the U.S as a defender.

Says USA Soccer: "The Hermann Trophy winner scored 26 goals and notched 13 assists in her final season (at Stanford), one of the highest outputs in Division I history. Seven years ago, the goal-scorer was converted into a defender; a defender with full license to go forward. Now headed into her third World Cup, O'Hara is a veteran outside back who can jumpstart the U.S. attack."

O'Hara has 117 caps, scored twice and recorded 15 assists.

Press never played for the U.S. youth national teams but she became one of Stanford's top players because of her speed and goal-scoring capabilities.

Also a Hermann Trophy winner, Press left Stanford as teh all-time leading goal scorer with 71.

USA Soccer picks it up: "In her first season playing professionally, she was the 2011 WPS rookie of the year. When the league folded in 2012, Press took her talents to Sweden, where she became the 2013 leading goal-scorer of the Swedish league. In 2014, she returned to the NWSL. In February of 2013, she got her first cap, her first start, and of course, scored two goals. In her next game, she scored yet again, becoming the only woman to score three goals in her first two games for the U.S. National Team."

Press has appeared in 115 matches, has 47 goals and 29 assists.

USA Water Polo and USA Soccer contributed to this report.

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